Realign modern politics
From being an act of service to the nation, politics today has been transformed into a dangerous practice of accumulating wealth
Party politics in India is heading towards a new low as values and principles are being thrown into the wind—without fear or caution. Politics has become a dangerous, dirty game that can be played well only by schemers and strategists, not always by men and women of character and values. Today's politics excludes intellectuals; instead, it enables middlemen and brokers to move into the service and transform it into a business with unprecedented profits. As a result, politics takes the character of the market. Day by day, the spending upon politics is increasing. Nobody spends their time free of cost as politicians did in the formative years of our country's independence. Politics is no longer a vehicle to serve the people. It has been converted into a kind of business in which service to the people is only a reduced possibility. Establishment costs, activity costs, and marketing costs need exorbitant amounts for political expenditures—where do the politicians go for the money? Three decades ago, party members and the public would extend their arms and contribute their money to the party. Party men and women also involved themselves in party activities. Now, for every activity, there is a segment of professionals and they do the job for the requisite money. Now, no one is willing to contribute money and no party is collecting donations from the party men or the public. The only exception is the Left parties. To withstand in politics without coming to power is not an easy task. Many of the political parties have sunk into oblivion due to the burden of financial distress. Even revered film actors, though they have immense popularity and mass support, are hesitant to enter into politics, because of the extensive cost that is involved in the field of practising politics. When everyone exerted pressure directly and indirectly on Rajinikanth, he made it very clear that it is not at all an easy task to organise and run a fully-functional political party. In politics, all is not well and yet, to change the nature and course of politics, people with rectitude have to enter into this arena and that is the need of the hour today. Yet, it has to be done in a thoughtful way, through meticulous planning with well-chalked out strategies.
In the recent years, the people in power have spent huge amounts of money for their political activities. They build affluent business establishments when they are in power and then lure people towards their parties only by distributing attractive economic benefits. The entire practice of engaging in extensive economic transactions has given a sense to the people that the prize for being in power is the successful creation and accumulation of massive amounts of wealth. At once, people then began participating in party meetings and conferences by their own accord and spent their own money for this engagement. Now, unless they are paid and provided comfortable conveyance and delicious food, they won't participate in any meeting. Furthermore, even party men and women are being paid for participating in the party meetings and conferences. For the meeting of the Chief Minister or the opposition party leader, the party has to spend a minimum of three crore rupees, all-inclusive. This is because organising a meeting requires a set of establishment support, as every activity is highly professionalised—from arranging the venue and stage to providing a festive decor to the entire enclosed area. To organise any event, a number of professionals have to be involved with utmost coordination. They heavily bill the political parties for their professional and political assistance. The parties have to run television channels and that too requires huge sums of money. Many party channels are not run for profit. The party office is being run as a corporate office which also demands huge resources. How do they mobilise resources? In seat-sharing during the electoral alliance to face elections, the main bargaining is not regarding the allocation of seats but instead, regarding the control of money resources. Some of the alliance partners settled with minimum seats and maximum resource sharing against the wishes of their cadres during the times of elections; this provided the opportunity to run the smaller parties without experiencing any remarkable resource constraint. People who seek tickets in the party to contest in the election also have to pay for the party. Unless one has got huge sums of money, it is very difficult to receive tickets into the party. In such a way, several fraudulent openings have been created for wealth making as black-moneyed wealthy individuals can swiftly enter into politics and through them, the parties mobilise their own resources. People who are in power fetch money through rent-seeking.
In the recent years, it has come into focus that black money generation and money laundering have been associated only with the people who are in power. Further, it has been noticed, currency notes are taken from the houses of the officials and brokers and they are then transported only by trucks. A demand has been projected in Tamil Nadu that a financial account of some of the politicians is audited for three decades at a stretch. In the past twenty to thirty years, wealth, property and income of the politicians have increased exponentially, almost in a staggering geometric proportion. In such a way, politics provided the opportunity for many to make wealth and distribute the same for further politics. As a result, one could see the dominant political parties emerging as corporate houses by adopting business approaches and strategies to further their own practices of wealth accumulation in contemporary politics. A study conducted in 17 states of India revealed a shocking fact that per capita bribe is more than per capita tax in our country! Even for the most ordinary services, people have become accustomed to paying bribes to the officials behind the desk.Thus, politics has become a problematic area and it is no longer a place for delivering service to the people. Instead, it has been converted into a business opportunity to earn rampant money and gain undeserved popularity. But one thing is clear that the politicians and bureaucrats who are on the wrong track are not safe and they are gradually becoming jittery about their position. The need of the hour is the emergence of a person and a party who would reduce the cost of politics by projecting an alternative form of practising politics that is meant solely for people's benefit without rent-seeking.
Politics should be constructed in such a way that anyone is allowed to join it and practice it as service without monetary investment. This could be possible only through an organised electoral and political reform. The reform should reduce the cost of politics, otherwise, the present trend of politics will eat away the vital values of democratic governance.
(The author is Rajiv Gandhi Chair for Panchayati Raj Studies, Gandhigram Rural Institute. The views expressed are strictly personal.)